JEDDAH: Feb. 14 this year was a curious day in Saudi Arabia, the day on which more than 3.5 million Saudis — about a tenth of the population — celebrated their birthday.
When identification cards became mandatory in the Kingdom more than 60 years ago many of those who came forward to register had no idea of their precise date of birth. The older generation of Saudis marked their birthdays by the year of their birth, neglecting the day and month — only a very few knew their exact date of birth, either by a memento such as newspaper clipping or from official birth certificates.
To resolve this headache, about 45 years ago the Ministerial Agency of Civil Affairs chose to register the first of Rajab, the seventh month in the Hijri calendar — 1/7 — as the date of birth for millions of Saudis, even though some of them did know which day they were born on in the Gregorian calendar. The Hijri is the Islamic calendar that is used for official dates.
“If you’re a 1/7 baby, then you’re definitely from jeel al-tayebeen (the good generation),” said Jamal Al-Ibrahim, a former banker and business owner. “I’m the eldest of 5 and all five of us share the same birthday. My mother would throw us separate birthday parties spread across the year, as we disliked shared birthdays. But now, as we’re all older and have our own families, we celebrate it together. We have one shared birthday, and then our own separate Gregorian birthdays. It’s a big family affair and an inside joke that millions of Saudis share.”
This year marks an extra special day for Muneera Al-Ghamdi and her husband Gassem Al-Ghamdi with the first of Rajab falling on Valentine’s Day. Their 45th wedding anniversary falls on Feb. 17, so with both parents sharing the same birthday, their children decided to throw them an extra special celebration on Feb. 14.
“My siblings and I decided to move up their anniversary date to coincide with the other occasions and get the whole family to join in on the celebrations,” their daughter Samira told Arab News. “We decided to fill the house with balloons and decorations and have the family join in via Zoom to mark the occasion,” she said.
After a rough year with her mother getting sick with COVID-19, it was good to celebrate the occasion in a special way.
“My father would always joke and poke fun at my mother saying that though they share a birthday, he’ll always be the young and handsome one and her reply is always: ‘Your receding hairline says otherwise’.”
“It’s what makes us Saudis feel even more special,” joked Eng. Zain Mahmoud, “though it’s not easily to explain when traveling,” he said.
“Almost 15 years ago, I was flying to Washington, DC with my sister, wife and kids. When I gave all the passports to the officer at passport control at Dulles Airport, they found that my wife, sister and I all shared the same birthdays but different years. It took an hour to convince them that it’s an old and odd system but they found it funny and let us go. It could have been worse, so I vowed not to stand in the same line as them again.”
To mark the occasion, one Riyadh coffee shop is joining in the fun. “The first of Rajab 1/7 is the official fictitious birthday to millions of Saudis who came to this world in the last Hijri century. The family of #Omar_Coffee welcomes them on their birthdays and offers them coffee for SR 7 only today,” @Omr_Coffee tweeted.